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Posted 02.13.06

More Studies Should Focus on Application of Classroom Knowledge, Researchers Say

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- While students spend a chunk of their day inside the classroom, a key purpose of schooling is what students do outside of school with what they've learned. For example, did a lesson on the Revolutionary War motivate a student to pick up a book on the subject at a local library, or make a trip to the history museum to learn more? A new study from a University of Missouri-Columbia researcher found little research exists on the topic and suggests that school learning has less of an influence on life experience and interests than school professionals expect.

David Bergin, Kevin Pugh"We are concerned with how students use their academic learning to enrich their lives," said David Bergin, associate professor of educational, school and counseling psychology in the MU College of Education, who conducted the study with Kevin Pugh, assistant education professor at the University of Toledo. "Do they get so interested in anything in school that they learn more about it outside of school? Do they learn something that makes them see the world in a new way?"

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Educational Researcher

Bergin and Pugh examined research on the effect a subject matter had on a student's everyday experience outside the classroom. One finding was that students love field trips because they are novel and fun, not because they anticipate learning new things. Nevertheless, teachers can make field trips educationally profitable for students if they carefully prepare them for what they should learn, Bergin said.

Current research suggests some students do acquire interest in school-based content, Bergin said. For example, some black students might become interested in the Civil Rights Movement through school instruction and read books like Roots and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Other students might become interested in literature and read unassigned plays and novels. However, the rate of such school-prompted interest appears to be relatively low.

Bergin said this article serves as a critique of educational research, which has done little to study what students do with their learning.

"How can we know what students do with their learning if we don't ask that question?" Bergin said. "In today's environment of testing, researchers and parents want to know what student test scores were, not if there has been any influence on students' interests or activities."

Bergin and Pugh think that much more attention should be focused on transfer of school learning to the out-of-school setting. A general finding in transfer studies is that students are often unable to apply their in-school learning to real-world problems or novel contexts.

Bergin and Pugh's study recently was published in the Educational Researcher.



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